The lush Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in Texas teems with a surprising diversity of birds, from White-faced Ibises and Bald Eagles to Burrowing Owls and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. So it’s no wonder that Desiree Loggins comes to the refuge as often as she can. But as much as she enjoys the birds, she’s even more interested in its people.
Santa Ana also boasts a diverse array of neighbors and visitors, including lifelong birders, people whose heritage is in migrant farm working, and DREAMers who were brought to the United States as children. They all see the refuge, which would be one of the first sites of President Trump’s proposed border wall, as special, says Loggins. As a regional network manager for Audubon in New Mexico and Texas, Loggins is now working on a campaign to stop the wall from slicing through this sensitive environmental sanctuary. “The wall would be a symbol of divisiveness in a place that brings a lot of different people together,” Loggins says.
To combat the wall, Loggins is building a coalition of people who live on the borderlands, involving environmental justice groups, indigenous groups, farm workers, and DREAMers at every step. “We want to make sure they know that Audubon supports them in this fight, even if it’s not directly focused on birds,” Loggins says. “My goal is to recruit people one by one.” Her projects in New Mexico take a similar tack, working with farmers and ranchers to preserve tributaries on the Rio Grande.
As a young black woman working in conservation, Loggins has always centered diversity in her work. “When I joined Audubon California, I felt immediately welcomed and supported, but also very aware of my blackness,” Loggins says of her first Audubon job. “I had no naivety about being the only one.” At that office, she later won a grant to lead a series of workshops on equity and inclusion.
She’s also starting these conversations with local Audubon chapters, paving the way for more conservationists of color to do field work alongside volunteers who tend to be older white men. “We’re trying to make these discussions go beyond ‘This is what a microaggression is’ and more of ‘This is how to be human and work in a positive and empowering way across these differences without erasing these differences.’”
For all that she does for them, Desiree Loggins wasn't always interested in birds. She fell in love with native plants and grasses while going to school in Santa Cruz. Later, at Audubon California, she'd join her colleagues in watching Sandhill Cranes soar over wetlands in the Central Valley that they fought to preserve, under a purpling twilight sky. “You’ve seen birds your whole life, but might not recognize how special they are until someone asks you to look at them,” she says.
In turn, Loggins passed along her newfound appreciation of birds to others. Her mother never paid much attention to the birds in the backyard trees of their home in northwestern Sacramento. Then Loggins pointed out a group of Cedar Waxwings in the branches one time. Now her mother watches for the birds and calls Loggins whenever she spies them.
Just as she asked her mother to recognize the beauty of a small brown bird with cherry-red wingtips, Loggins now asks the conservation movement, a historically homogenous group, to recognize the need for a diverse, inclusive organizing constituency. In her eyes, it starts with hiring people of color to meaningful roles and building relationships with local, marginalized communities. If her mother can fall in love with waxwings, Loggins is sure the conservation movement can fall in love with justice.
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